We veterans suck at sleeping and relaxing. We got used to going 1000 miles an hour for an indefinite period of time until we were told by our OIC to take some leave and get our shit together before we burnout.
As civilians, that time may never come. For better or worse, you probably don't have anyone that remotely resembles an OIC in your life anymore.
If we are looking at each day as a mini-deployment cycle, that means after work we should be taking leave, getting psychologically evaluated, spending time with family, and caring for ourselves.
I don't mean this as a joke either. If we are constantly managing the damage each day inflicts on us, we are more likely to thrive in our post-military lives.
The elements of chilling out
You can talk about computers, chalkboards, sunglasses or life.
Connect with others. The purpose of the work day, like deployment, is mission accomplishment, not necessarily forming bonds and finding common ground with others. We do need real connections with other people though. The recent bestseller Lost Connections beautifully lays out how a lack of meaningful connection in our lives is one of the leading causes of depression and anxiety.
Bond with your kids, join a book club, talk to your high school best friend, volunteer at the soup kitchen. It doesn't much matter, as long as the conversations you're having get past talking about work and the weather. Enter the conversation with the intention of learning something new about your fellow human.
Who am I?... Typical Derek Zoolander reflection questions.
Reflect on the day. Run an after-action report on your day. You can write it down or just think about it. Ask yourself these questions:
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- How can I carry my wins today into tomorrow?
- How can I learn from my losses today to make tomorrow better?
Once you've reflected, write down your learning points and forget it for the rest of the night. You can apply lessons learned tomorrow.
It doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to be "good" at it.
Wind down your body. Maybe you haven't had the chance to train yet today, if so… get your ass training. If you have already, it's time to cool down physically, as this will help you to cool down mentally as well. I prefer a static stretch while I watch old episodes of the Office or YouTube videos on the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. It doesn't have to be something complicated.
Whatever you decide should include the intention of releasing stress and tension from your body. Dedicated breathing, a bubble bath, or a glass of whiskey while staring at the stars can all work if the intention is correct.
Stare into the stars and calm things down.
Wind down your mind. Sometimes this happens in tandem with cooling down the body, sometimes we need more. Yeah, meditating is f*cking great for this, but it isn't a requirement.
Just like above, choose an activity that you intend to serve the purpose of letting go of the day's stresses. Reading, listening to Miles Davis, or calmly venting to your spouse can all serve this purpose.
Take a day off.
A full day for you to rest and repair so you can tear shit up again next week.
Having a daily rest and relaxation plan is the first line of defense, but sometimes life gets messy. It's rare that the work day actually ends at 1700 or that you don't have other obligations in the evenings. This is precisely why the Sabbath was created--even God needs to rest.
Taking a rest day doesn't have to have anything to do with religion if you don't want it to. What it is, is a day where you schedule things that are restorative and relaxing.
Physically your body needs time to recover. When stress hormones are high, your immune system and internal recovery procedures are compromised. Any type of stress can and will impede your ability to recover, even if it's the kind of stress you may enjoy.
When we weight train we are literally causing damage to our muscles. They can only fully be repaired with proper nutrition and dedicated rest.
Type-A personalities AKA most of you
I dare you to sit on the beach and do nothing except watch the waves. It's harder than you think.
Many veterans are some degree of a type-A person. If you:
- Like stress
- Are hyper-alert
- Have little patience
- Are a workaholic
- Love schedules
You probably fall into this category.
Type-A people like to do things that get them going and dislike the idea of unwinding. They like to work out at super-high intensities. If they aren't sweating gallons, they feel like they haven't done anything.
Telling one of you guys to chill and unplug for a day probably feels like I want you to take a vow of silence and live in a monastery. Take heed, the research shows that you are not necessarily anymore immune to stress than the rest of us without mitigating practices like above. In fact, as a type-A personality, you may even be more at risk for health issues or low performance than others.
Here is the evening routine I use with many of my clients to help them wind down. Keep in mind, it is not doctrine, it's guidance.
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